USC Price initiative seeds collaborations around race, arts and placemaking
By Cristy Lytal
How do communities of color claim urban space through design, media, the arts and cultural practice? USC’s Race, Arts and Placemaking (RAP) initiative will be exploring this topic for the next three years with a new infusion of funding from the USC Office of the Provost, the USC Price School of Public Policy and a generous donor.
“I am excited and encouraged by this sign of support from the Provost and the Price School to grow what RAP has been doing on campus and in the community the last two years,” said Annette Kim, associate professor and director of the Spatial Analysis Lab (SLAB) at USC Price. “RAP has been really amazing for Price, building upon our interdisciplinarity within the social sciences with new relationships with faculty members, particularly in the creative and humanities disciplines, developing the transdisciplinarity that a lot of people talk about. And what this means practically and personally is that RAP has allowed me to make some amazing friends with shared passions and the venue through which to support and create together.”
Kim is leading the initiative along with a multidisciplinary team of co-principal investigators: Holly Willis from the USC School of Cinematic Arts; and Francois Bar, Robeson Taj Frazier and Josh Kun from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Beyond this core leadership team, RAP has convened an active group of more than 20 faculty members engaged in relevant research. These faculty hail from USC’s schools of public policy, cinematic arts, communication, art and design, architecture, law, and letters, arts and sciences.
Kim, Bar and Willis began their collaboration in 2015 by organizing the event series “Urban Visions: Art as Social Practice,” featuring Houston-based artist and community organizer Rick Lowe and supported by a USC Visions and Voices grant. This sparked the conversations that led to the official launch of RAP in early 2016 with an intial Provost Research Collaboration Fund Grant.
RAP’s first major event was a conference reflecting on aspects of the 1992 LA uprising—ranging from policy issues, to economic impacts, to the artistic and cultural response. The conference, called “FORWARD LA: Race, Arts, and Inclusive Placemaking after the 1992 Civil Unrest,” was co-organized by SLAB, the USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation and the USC Dornsife Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE).
Since then, the RAP faculty have partnered with local community-based organizations, distributing seed grants to produce cultural events both on and off campus. Recent events have included a “refugee block party” featuring music, food vendors and creative activities in Leimert Park; a panel discussion about Afrobeat pioneer Fela Anikulapo Kuti in the Arts District; and a conversation with artist-educators Chris Johnson and Unique Holland on the USC University Park Campus.
In 2019, RAP faculty and local community-based organizations plan to hold a discussion about cultural asset mapping in Leimert Park, and to host multiple field trips and teacher trainings for local public high schools.
RAP highlights these activities, along with other art exhibitions, courses and other events taking place throughout the city, in their newsletter which has subscribers across the nation.
“RAP has provided a vision and leadership,” said Kim. “People are really compelled by the idea. People reach out to me regularly from all over because they of this particular amalgamation of issues. And for the students, they’ve expressed to us how much it’s meant to them to raise and legitimate this perspective on campus.”
For Dulce Soledad Ibarra, who is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the USC Roski School of Art and Design, RAP has connected her with a like-minded community of faculty and scholars across many different disciplines. And as a RAP RA and newsletter editor, Ibarra enjoys keeping her finger on the pulse of RAP-relevant events throughout Los Angeles.
“I do a lot of things that are for social change,” she said. “That’s in my practice and also as a person outside of the arts. So I really gravitated towards this group, because it stood for something that could really be something that I want to be part of. So it was nice to see that on campus.”
Alumnus Matthew Miller was one of the first USC Price doctoral students to get involved in RAP—from designing its logo to launching its website. Now, as a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Pennsylvania School of Design’s Department of City and Regional Planning, Miller continues to feel the influence of RAP in his scholarship and career.
“My involvement with it was pretty extensive, and it’s influenced me in terms of moving forward,” he said. “I’m teaching a class next semester, actually, that’s a variant of the RAP class. Part of why PennDesign was interested in me was because of my interest in placemaking and equity and intersectionality. I was also able to serve as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts’ program called Our Town, which was the first major source of funding for creative placemaking projects around the country. So RAP has been a wellspring of opportunity and relationships.”
RAP is positioned at the vanguard of a larger conversation at the intersection of urban planning and many other fields of study. At USC Price, the Master of Urban Planning degree has expanded to include a new “arts and culture” concentration, which leverages the expertise of RAP faculty across the university. Kim also teaches a popular course, PPD 499 Race, Arts and Placemaking, in which students film oral histories about Los Angeles. Other RAP-relevant USC courses address everything from civic media to the history of hip-hop in Los Angeles.
“Our home in the heart of Los Angeles inspires us to be generous, collaborative neighbors, supporting and participating in positive change,” said USC Provost Michael Quick. “I’m proud that our RAP faculty are leading the conversation about how to harness our university’s strengths to contribute to community engagement.”